By  on December 8, 2006

What do Nicole Kidman, Donald Trump and Tiger Woods have in common?

No, it isn't golf or perfumes. Instead, they are the three celebrities who rise high above the rest of the pop culture pack in their potential to boost the favor in which consumers hold a brand, says Robert Passikoff, author of the recently published "Predicting Market Success" (John Wiley & Sons, $29.95).

And in today's celebrity-obsessed culture, that is no easy feat.

While the bloom isn't off the celebrity rose, Passikoff believes it is growing ever tougher to cultivate an effective pairing of a celebrity and a brand given the constant stream of "stars." The secret to creating a robust match, said Passikoff, lies as much in the brands as in the celebrities themselves. Namely, to find someone whose image is clearly in sync with the things consumers value in a brand a star is trumpeting.

For Passikoff, founder and president of marketing consultant Brand Keys, the inability of brands — human or otherwise — to stand out from the crowd is a long-running problem. Unless, that is, you are Kidman, Trump or Woods.

"If you gave me any product, I'd take Tiger Woods or Donald Trump [as an endorser] because there seems to be a high degree of willingness to believe in both that reinforces values," Passikoff said. "They seem to be able to move between and among categories with a tremendous amount of ease."

When Buick was hawked by Tiger Woods, for example, consumers saw the automotive brand as 7 percent more likely to meet their expectations than it would have been without his apparent stamp of approval, while Kidman's turn for Chanel No.5 raised people's perception the fragrance would satisfy them by 7 percent, as well. Consumers valued Chanel No.5 because of a sense it was an emblem or icon; it was a good value/price; it was the right scent, and it was specially formulated.

In contrast, Diet Pepsi spots featuring the celebrity then known as P. Diddy, broadcast during the Super Bowl in 2005, lowered by 8 percent people's sense the drink would deliver what they wanted: a beverage appropriate for the whole family that is enjoyable in various settings, tastes good and is readily available.That a star's aura can influence the extent to which people anticipate satisfaction with a brand illustrates one of Passikoff's primary gauges of potential market success: He estimates 70 percent of consumers' decisions about products and loyalties to them are based on emotions.

Here, the author/consultant shares his views on the state of celebrity-based marketing.

WWD: How, if at all, has the effectiveness of celebrity endorsers changed in the past few years?

Robert Passikoff: There's a decrease in the number of new feature films that get made, new technology is kicking the hell out of Hollywood and all these people [celebrities and agents] are looking for something to do. Plus, there's an increasing lack of differentiation among celebrities. It seems to be the universal antidote that gets thrown up. Celebrity is royalty in the U.S.

WWD: Are celebrity associations any more or less effective these days in the realm of fashion?

R.P.: For fashion, like all else, a celebrity's effectiveness depends on the match.

WWD: Can you cite any exemplary cases or disasters?

R.P.: Madonna was a disaster for Versace. She's spent her career as an entertainer reinventing herself — it affords a very high level of schizophrenic values for people to look at. As there are no clear values consumers can put their hands around, it makes it problematic for a brand. There needs to be a level of consonance with brand values. [Versace, as reported, went with five models in its fall campaign, instead of shooting stars like Halle Berry and Madonna as it had in recent seasons.]

Diane Keaton for L'Oréal is dead-on. The values present in Keaton reinforce values in the L'Oréal brand, such as intelligence, having a certain style, being more mature in the best sense of mature.

WWD: Why do you believe women celebrities tend to be judged more harshly than famous men, in the wake of a scandal?

R.P.: Men are seen as pirates. Women are seen as bitches. I think situational values that are held but are not articulated [come into play] — men are breadwinners, women are nurturers — no matter how much our society has changed. It's a case of what you'd expect from women versus what you'd expect from men.Martha Stewart took a bigger hit than Enron because it's easier to hate a person than a company. Ditto Kathie Lee Gifford and Nike [over charges they made goods with sweatshop labor].

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